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Archive for May, 2016

Yesterday I received a notification that my phone’s voicemail was full and that I wouldn’t be able to receive any new messages.  It is 2016.  How is this still a thing?  Why don’t we just have a cloud based voicemail service that would enable us to save an unlimited number of voicemails?  As it is now I only have 20 voicemails on my phone.  The longest one is only 3 minutes long.  Most are under a minute.  We’re talking about thirty minutes of saved content max.  And yet my smartphone can’t handle that?

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Just delete some messages and free up some space, right?  Well, what if that doesn’t work for me?  You see, I was specifically trying to save about a dozen messages that my friend had left for me as part of series of phone message pranks that we were recording for each other.  The objective was to save a bunch of the best ones and then turn them into a montage of sorts.  But that’s not going to be possible if I have to keep deleting them.

That’s why I’d love to see the creation of a cloud based voicemail service that comes standard with your phone.  Every message that you receive will automatically get saved unless you specifically go out of your way to get rid of something.  Best of all, every message will be fully searchable.  Say you lose a loved one and just want to hear their voice again.  Instead of just replaying that last message over and over again, if you were lucky enough to have saved a message, you could instead listen to every message they ever sent you.  You could even search across your entire collection of messages by keyword.  So that, if so desired, you could create a montage of all of your friends singing Happy Birthday to you.

Better yet, what if this cloud based voice mail came equipped with an AI infused assistant that was really intelligent?  Smart enough to automatically turn a new voicemail from your dentist confirming your appointment tomorrow into a new entry on your calendar.  Smart enough to sound an alarm and wake you up from your nap when a new voicemail about an important job opportunity arrives.  Smart enough to text a message to your mom that you’re okay and will call her later after the 7th message that she’s left for you worried about your well-being.  How would your voicemail know this?  Because it could tap into your phone’s history to see where you’ve been and what you’re up to.

Artificial Intelligence of this caliber is already where the tech industry is headed.  Facebook, Google and the like are hard at work at perfecting conversational AI as it relates to their instant messaging platforms with the hope being that you’ll one day do everything from hail an Uber to book a plane ticket all within a messaging thread and all just by asking a bot to do it for you.  Amazon Echo is always on, always listening and constantly getting smarter.  Capable of learning your habits so it can serve you better.  And some email services can already understand what is being said and suggest appropriate responses.  If all that is possible isn’t also possible to apply all that same technology to voicemails?

Is this a pipe dream?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  All I know is that if you try calling me right now you won’t be able to leave me a message.  And that’s a problem.

Is cloud based AI infused voicemail the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#886 – OLO

Much to my chagrin, 3-D printing has not yet taken off as desired.  What can be printed is limited and time consuming.  And the printers themselves are bulky and expensive.  Most likely, this “game changing” technology is going to be relegated to factory floors and warehouses never even sniffing your living room floor or house.  But all that may be about to change.  For we may soon have the ability to use our cell phones as a 3-D printer!  Or at least as one half of a 3-D printer!

The breakthrough is being brought to us by a device known as OLO which uses the light from your smart phone screen to harden the printing resin.  Gizmag explains how it works: “All of the software processing is handled by the OLO app, available for iOS, Android, and Windows. No manual leveling or calibration required. Once an object has been loaded and printing commenced, the app instructs the smartphone to light up specific pixels for a set amount of time. Resin affected by the light transforms from a goo-like substance into hardened material. The OLO smartphone 3D printer continues this process, layer by layer, until the object is finished and resin consumed.”

What’s great about this concept is that it lowers the barrier to entry for those who want to own a 3D printer since everyone pretty much already owns a smart phone.  And since we already carry our phones with us everywhere we go it means that we now have a portable 3-D printer that’s easy to use.  Suffice it to say this could make all other 3-D printers obsolete.  Especially when you consider that it’s going to cost less than $100 to own one.  However, to be fair, it is worth nothing that in order to take advantage of this technology you’re going to have to surrender your phone for 1-4 hours while the printing takes place which is probably way too long for most people.

All in all, one has to be excited about this technology though as we’re talking about a device that could bring about a 3-D printing revolution.  Making it so that everyone and their mother is going to want to own one so that they can print anything and everything from toys to replacements for household items.  With a 3-D printer now literally at your fingertips the possibilities are truly endless.

Is OLO the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#885 – Pilot

I’ve long maintained that the world would be a better place if we would just create a universal language.  Scientists could communicate with one another freely and easily speeding up technological progress and innovation along the way.  Relationships could flourish in spite of cultural differences.  Travelling the world would become a breeze.  It would be heavenly.

Of course it will never happen as we’d never be able to agree on which language to use.  And having everyone learn a whole new language at the same time would be a logistical nightmare.  Thankfully, there’s a technological solution to this problem: a new ear piece called Pilot that acts as a universal translator.

As Gizmag puts it, “From the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Babel fish to Star Trek‘s universal translator, science fiction has found ways to break down the intergalactic language barriers, but it’s something those of us in the real world are still struggling with. New York startup Waverly Labs is now claiming it’s ready to make fiction a reality with the Pilot earpiece, which sits in your ear to provide near real-time translations of multilingual conversations.”

There is one key caveat, however, as The Next Web points out: “Both participants in the conversation will need to be wearing a Pilot but the manufacturers will be selling them in pairs so you don’t need to seek out owners of the device in the street.”

Now, this isn’t the first product that has offered the promise of real time translation.  Last year, Skype rolled out a feature that lets users communicate between Spanish and English with more languages set to join the service (as of now it supports 7 languages and up to 50 via instant messaging).  And of course Google Translate is in the fray, although as Mashable reports, that service has its flaws: “There is also Google Translate’s conversation mode, which automatically detects which language is being spoken and translates it out loud. It requires a phone to be positioned between the two speakers and could pick up a lot of unwanted noise, though.”

While I love the idea of a universal translator it remains to be seen if Pilot’s ear buds will catch on.  It may take a more ubiquitous device such as Google Glass (if it ever arrives) or something else that supports augmented reality before this technology takes off.  At the very least though it’s encouraging that this is a problem that people are trying to fix.  Surely, the world will be a much better place if they can ever pull it off.

Are Pilot earbuds the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You probably didn’t notice but yesterday was a monumental day as Title III of the JOBS Act went into effect.  Why is that significant?  Well, it means that anyone can now directly invest in a new company via a process known as equity crowdfunding!

This is huge.  Previously, if you wanted to invest in a company you needed to be an accredited investor.  Meaning that you needed to have a net worth of at least $1,000,000 or a yearly income of at least $200,000.  But now any Joe Schmo with a dollar and a dream can follow his heart and invest in an idea that they feel passionately about it.  Albeit up to a certain limit.  As Fast Company explains, “Investors who make less than $100,000 a year can now invest up to either 5% of their annual income, or $2,000, whichever is greater. Investors who make more than $100,000 a year can invest up to 10% of their annual income, but they cannot invest more than $100,000 in one year.”

The key difference with equity crowdfunding when compared to ordinary crowdfunding is that instead of contributing money to a cause that you believe in for a one time reward i.e. early access to the finished product or some other small scale perk like a t-shirt, with equity crowd funding you’re a real investor in a future company getting in at the ground level before the company goes public.  That’s a huge difference.

A few years ago when Alibaba filed for their IPO I was livid that I couldn’t get in on the action ahead of time at the pre-IPO price of $68 per share.  When I finally did have an opportunity to buy after the IPO the share price was jacked up into the high 80’s.  It has subsequently gone down into the low 80’s.  Meaning that if I had gotten in on the ground floor I would have turned a profit and if I would have purchased when all of the other common folk were eligible I would have lost money.  Another classic example of the rich getting richer while the poor get left out in the cold.  Well, now with equity crowdfunding legalized that’s no longer an issue.  A savvy forward thinking investor who can spot trends ahead of time, such as yours truly, now has as good a chance as anyone else at finding the next big thing and capitalizing on it exponentially.

There is a caveat, however, as there often is with news this good.  And that’s the sad truth that nobody knows how this is going to play out yet.  How will it work?  Will Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer equity crowdfunding options?  Will other platforms emerge?  Are there even going to be worthwhile ideas worth investing in or will all the best ideas follow traditional paths to funding.  And most importantly, will investors get taken advantage of with Ponzi schemes and the like?  Will corruption run rampant?

I don’t know.  All I know is that I like having the ability to invest in an idea that I’m passionate about and be able to profit from down the road.  Some may even say that watching a company grow from startup to fortune 500 juggernaut is as exciting as the actual profit that you’ll receive.  I don’t know if that’s true but that’s beside the point.  The point is that now we’ll get to find out.  The era of equity crowdfunding has arrived!

Is Equity Crowdfunding the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to designing user interfaces.  Just look how far we’ve come in regards to desktop computers, going from clunky mouses to touch screens.  Not to mention all of the changes that the humble video game controller has under gone since the advent of the Atari.  And we’re not done yet.  Not even close.  Not until we make the gesture control system from the Minority Report a reality.  In the meantime, there’s a handful of designers hard at work trying to design a better interface for the smart watch.  Probably in hopes that someone will then actually want to use one.

As Wired puts it, “The biggest problem with smart watches, beyond the fact no one really knows what to do with them, is their small screens. Scrolling through text or swiping a notification is particularly frustrating when your finger obscures whatever it is you’re trying to see. This is why you can’t tap out a text message, let alone play games. But some really smart designers at Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Group found a way of making your arm part of the user interface. Over the past few years, they’ve come up with several novel ways of thinking beyond the edges of your typical smart watch screen. Tilting and twisting the bezel lets people control the watch like a joystick. Skin Buttons projected buttons onto the wearer’s forearm. Now there’s SkinTrack, a project that explores how your arm might function as a touchscreen for wearables.”

Essentially, this new system, which was created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, circumvents the limitations imposed by the tiny screen on the watch face, enabling you to interact with your watch in whole new ways.  For example, if you’re playing Angry Birds you can swipe on your arm from right to left to signify that you’re pulling back on the slingshot.  When you let go you’ll then see the result play out on the screen.  Or you could swipe up or down with a finger to toggle through menu options without having to actually make contact with the watch.  That may not seem like a lot but considering how much the size of your finger can obscure your field of view when using the existing touch screen that’s no small feat. 

Best of all, this technology even works through clothing with 99% accuracy.  Meaning that you could easily multi-task while in a business meeting.  Everyone else in the room will just think you’re scratching an itch on your forearm!

Unfortunately, this technology still has a ways to go and isn’t going to be commercially viable for a while.  By which time we may have an invented another entirely new way of interacting with our gadgets.  But, that’s what great about this technology.  Even if never catches on, it has, at the very least, shown us what is possible to achieve when using the human body as a controller.  Perhaps future systems will expand upon that concept even more.  Perhaps one of them will even make us want to use a smart watch.

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Is SkinTrack the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Yesterday I checked out Popnology, a new exhibit at the Arizona Science Center dedicated to examining the intersection of technology and pop culture.  It was a fascinating look at the progress we’ve made over the last few decades while also providing a sneak peak at what lies ahead.  Here’s a quick look at some of my observations from the day:

  • One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit was the look at some of the notable quotes that tried to predict the future.  From the co-founder of YouTube who claimed that there weren’t any videos worth watching to IBM’s Thomas Watson who said that there was “a global market for maybe five computers” it really was remarkable how incredibly wrong some incredibly smart people were.  Ironically, the people who proved to be the most prescient weren’t scientists at all but rather science fiction writers.  Proving that once again, when it comes to predicting the future, all you really need is an over active imagination.
  • This prompted me to consider what my predictions for the future are.  The first and really only thing to come to mind?  Underwater colonies.  With climate change threatening to make most of the Middle East uninhabitable there’s no doubt in my mind that humanity will wind up living under the water once living on land no longer proves viable.
  • The world’s first 3-D printed car was on display at this exhibit as was a host of other 3-D printed objects.  As I examined the various items one thing became abundantly clear: there really isn’t going to be a market for a household 3-D printer.  Rather, the one area where 3-D printing will prove to be vital is in regards to bio-printing i.e. printing replacement organs and body parts.  Other than that I have a hard time fathoming a use for it.  But, who knows.  Maybe that claim will be used in a future version of a Popnology exhibit to show just how wrong a contemporary visionary was.
  • One of the best displays was an entire room filled with various objects.  There was a phone book, an alarm clock, a rolodex, various maps and records, a TV, a tape recorder, an answering machine, and a bunch of board games.  It was a huge room with even more stuff than that.  The objective of the display?  To point out that all of those things now come on your phone and fit inside your pocket.  When visualized that way it really is stunning how powerful our phones are.  And how much we take them for granted.
  • The hover board from Back to the Future was on display but even more interesting than that was a look at some of the futuristic sketches from artist Edward Eyth depicting life in 2015 that didn’t make it into the films.  Such as a robotic nanny, an arm mounted display that the police use, and a data fanatic covered head to toe in gadgets including what appears to be a Google Glass equivalent and shoulder pads that collect solar energy.  Incredibly, all of Eyth’s visions including the famous examples from the movies (hover board, self lacing sneakers, etc.) are all either coming true or likely to come true in the near future. Is this a case of the self fulfilling prophecy or is Eyth a real visionary?
  • I take it back.  I do have another prediction for the future.  Hybrid book/e-books that are paper based but come intertwined with holograms that bring the story to life at certain key points.  It would kind of be like a pop up book on steroids.  And considering how physical books have proven to have staying power I truly believe that this idea is a realistic possibility.
  • The main event of the exhibit was an Oculus Rift demo.  I was beyond excited to try out this game changing technology for the first time after closely following it’s development over the last three plus years.  And boy was I disappointed.  Granted, it was only a two minute demo in which I was in a noisy room wearing a device that may or may not have been in perfect working condition but the experience was not what I was expecting.  Having the ability to move your head around and see a 360 degree field of view was pretty cool.  But at no point did I feel like I was there.  The out of body, ghost like experience that I was envisioning never came to fruition.  If this is what all Oculus Rift experiences are going to be like then I’ll gladly pass.

All in all, it was an interesting day as I was able to marvel at the vast progress that humanity has made in a very short period of time.  With everything still to come that the exhibit didn’t touch on from synthetic biology to space travel the future is incredibly bright.  I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Popnology featured everything from 3-D printing and Robotics to Virtual Reality and Quantum Computing.  Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#881 – Tovala

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the kitchen of the future.  Wondering what it would be like to have a smart refrigerator that orders milk on its own when you’re running out, or a coffee pot that brews itself as soon as you wake up.  Or better yet, imagining what it would be like to live in a future where your dishes wash themselves.  But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that we’d have just one appliance that did everything for us.  And yet that’s the future that we may have thanks to the Tovala, the so-called Keurig for Food that’s a broiler, steamer, microwave, oven, and toaster all rolled into one.

It pulls off this feat by cooking prepackaged “gourmet” meals that come seasoned and ready to cook.  All you have to do is use your phone to scan a bar code that comes on the food package and the Tovala will know how to cook it and for how long. Designed for people who want to eat healthy but are too busy to prepare meals themselves the Tovala could fast become the kind of product that we just can’t live without.

The key from a marketing standpoint is to emphasize how good the food tastes (allegedly significantly better than microwaved food) and to educate consumers that they’re not just dealing with glorified frozen dinners.  In fact, since the food is locally sourced and never frozen comparing it to a lean cuisines just isn’t fair.

As Defbuzz puts it, “David Rabie, CEO and founder of the Y-Combinator backed startup, is quick to mention that the whole ‘meal pod’ description doesn’t really cut it. In fact, Tovala’s pre-prepared trays are created by Michelen star chefs and are simply pre-marinated. Tovala doesn’t use a one note technology like our old pal the microwave, instead it employs baking, steaming, and boiling processes and a heck of a brain to properly cook each component.”

That ability to toggle between cooking methods is what makes the Tovala special.  As Business Insider reports, “In the case of one of the company’s roasted chicken recipes, the Tovala will steam the food for about 12 minutes, then switch to broil mode for five minutes to crisp everything.”

Priced at just under $300 it remains to be seen if the Tovala will catch on.  But if it does, foodies and non-foodies alike will soon be rejoicing that the kitchen of the future has finally arrived.

 

Is the Tovala the Greatest Idea Ever?

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My recent acquisition of an Echo has gotten me hooked on Amazon’s products. Currently I’m debating whether I should get Fire TV and a Fire Tablet to complete the Alexa voice activated trifecta.  However, one Amazon product that I wasn’t interested in was there Dash buttons.  Place a “Tide” button in the laundry room and simply press it when it’s time to order more detergent.  Place a “Gatorade” button next to your refrigerator and restock your supply when you realize you’re running low.  It’s a literal easy button for the game of life.

As cool as the concept is I was never able to imagine a scenario where I’d need to use one of these buttons.  As it is my massive tub of detergent from Costco already lasts for about six months.  In fact, with most of my supplies coming from Costco I really don’t have a need to ever shop for household items.  All I have to do is go to Costco twice a year.

Amazon, perhaps realizing that other people shared this same dilemma set out to change the fundamental way that their buttons work.  Which means that in addition to preset branded buttons, we now have customizable buttons that can be used to carry out basic everyday tasks.  For example, you can hit a button that will tell your coffee pot to start brewing a cup of coffee or hit one to start your car remotely.

According to Wired the Amazon website states that, “You can click the button to unlock or start a car, open your garage door, call a cab, call your spouse or a customer service representative, track the use of common household chores, medications or products, or remotely control your home appliances.”

If you have an Echo you can already program Alexa to do some of those same things so these Dash buttons may be more likely to appeal to people who are just now getting introduced to Amazon’s ecosystem for the first time or who only have the need to automate a handful of tasks.

That’s nothing to snicker at though.  The biggest issue with the Internet of Things is finding a way to bring it to the forefront of the public consciousness.  To find that so called “killer app” that ushers in this new era.  If Echo was the first step then these customizable dash buttons very well could be the second.  An ingenious way to lower the barrier to entry to the smart home.

That Internet of Things dominated future that we’ve heard so much about may finally be within reach.  Soon it’ll even be at our fingertips.  Literally.  And we’ll have Amazon to thank.

Is Amazon’s customizable dash button the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Last night I attended a lecture by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  For over two hours he picked apart famous movies showing us where Hollywood got the science right or wrong, intertwining stories from his own life and some makeshift science lessons along the way.  When it was over he opened up the floor to questions from the audience at which point an aspiring scientist asked Dr. Tyson for some advice.  To which Dr. Tyson replied, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Do not stand on the shoulders of giants.  Become the giant yourself.”

Well, IBM seems to have taken that advice to heart for they appear to be on the verge of finding a cure for every major virus from Zika and Ebola to Herpes and Influenza.  The trick was that instead of going after the virus’ RNA or DNA they instead went after the glycoproteins that surround the virus.  These glycoproteins are what enable viruses to stick onto the cells that they want to afflict.  Take away that ability and you’ve effectively neutralized the virus’ ability to cause harm.

As Fast Company explains:

“No matter what the virus and how it mutates, it’s going to have these substances on the surface; they have electric charges (some positive, some negative) that a chemical can stick onto. What the researchers developed is a polymer that adheres to the virus, blocking it from hooking onto a victim cell in the body. That’s step one.  The [chemical] can also stick to immune cells such as macrophages, blocking the spot where a virus would attach.”

But, wait  There’s more!

“If a virus somehow gets past both barriers, the [chemcial] has one more trick: It’s basic—as in the opposite of acidic. It neutralizes some of the acidity in the human cell, which ruins the virus’s ability to replicate even if it does get in. The [chemical] could [also] be used to treat people who are already sick or even to prevent them from getting infected.”

That last part is huge.  That means that we could soon have the ability to create temporary vaccines for some of these deadly diseases that have been wrecking havoc in parts of the developing world.  Soon is a relative term though.  It will still be several years before a usable product or medication hits the market.

In the meantime the threat of Zika still hangs over the upcoming Summer Olympic games causing several athletes and health officials to question whether they should even be competing.

Regardless of how this plays out in the short term it’s comforting to know that help is on the way thanks to the researchers at IBM who dared to break new ground, who dared to think outside the box and come up with a novel new approach to battling deadly viruses.

All of which begs the question: what else can we achieve if we stop standing on the shoulders of giants and become the giants ourselves?

Is IBM’s Magic Bullet the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#878 – Kapture

We all have that one friend who constantly says outrageous things and then denies them when you call them out on it.  “The Star Wars prequels were better than the originals!” “Michael Jordan was overrated!”  “Donald Trump would make a great President!”

What the what!!!!

Currently, there’s nothing you can do when that person says something ridiculous  You can make a bet but you know that’s an exercise in futility because they’ll deny ever making the bet and will never pay up.  I suppose you could stop being friends with that person.  But where’s the fun in that?  Some of those outrageous comments are hilarious.

Thankfully there will soon be something that you can do about it: throw their words back in their face!  A now realistic possibility thanks to Kapture, a new wearable device that constantly captures audio giving you the ability to play back what was  said during the last sixty seconds.  Just double tap the device and you’re latest audio snippet will get sent to your phone for posterity.

Aside from helping your win debates, Kapture has several other use cases that could come in handy:

  • Capturing important comments during a business meeting
  • Taking notes during a class or lecture
  • Remembering a witty line that your friend had
  • Dictating notes to your self, for example if you have an idea that you want to “write down” before you forget
  • Recording testimony during a legal proceeding

Honestly, as cool as this concept is I’d like this technology a lot better if it was built into something else.  If it was a capability that Amazon Echo had.  Or if it was baked into the Apple Watch.  Because when it comes down to it are you really going to have a designated wearable device just for capturing sound bites?

Chances are if you’re the type of person who’d even want to have a wearable in the first place it’s probably going to be a FitBit or a smart watch.  It’s probably not going to be a one dimensional wrist band.  But I could be wrong.  To date there’s never been any proof of that.  Perhaps one day, if Kapture catches on, my words will come back to haunt me.

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Is Kapture the Greatest Idea Ever?

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